“So what are you here to film?” he asked from his battered bamboo chair, as he exhaled from the stub of the cigarette in his hand, the smoke blending in with the dust sweeping through the camp. He was about 40, and had been sitting in that dark alley his entire life. One of my students took his picture. He looked at her, “You should ask me to smile,” he said and smiled, revealing crooked and broken teeth. She got flustered. He shrugged, “Film whatever you want. People have been filming me since I was three-years old. Me, my dead relatives nothing changes. You make your film, you show everyone the sad poor people and I’m still sitting here in this chair. Nothing changes.”
Almost anywhere else in the world, you would tell him, “Get a job, any job, have some pride,” but there are few legal jobs for people in the Shatila Refugee Camp. They can work odd construction gigs under the table in Beirut, which many of them do, or they can operate a small business in the camp, such as a grocery store, where they can sell cheap food to people who can barely afford to pay for it. Or their parents in rare cases can somehow find the money so that they can go to a college outside the camp, and come back to work in a hospital or as a teacher in the declining education system. Or they can just sit on a bamboo chair. Nothing changes. Unless perhaps they get immigration papers to go to Europe or America. (For statics on life in the camps, check out Franklin Lamb’s article in Counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/can-richard-falk-achieve-civil-rights-for-palestinians-in-lebanon/)
The father of the family we were going to film scavenges through junk piles in Beirut, bartering and trading junk to furnish their dim and dank cramped room/house. His wife, Sabah, keeps the room meticulous, and we’re asked to take off our shoes as they are covered with dust from outside. Sabah explains proudly how she decorated with her eldest daughter, Reem, 15, who dreams of being a designer but will not live long enough to realize her dreams would not have been attainable because she would never have had the opportunity or training required.
It’s the women in the camps that hang on to hope, despite being betrayed by either the stupidity or insincerity of the Palestinian leaders of their parents’ generation, who engaged in the Lebanese Civil War for no logical reason and sending them into further isolation and devastation, despite being the keepers of the rusty keys of their family homes in Palestine that their grandparents took with them during their expulsion from what is now is Israel. They are the third generation born in these camps, and while the hope of a return home is almost beyond their grasp of those old keys, the hope that at least one of their children will find a way out allows them to live.
In Ain Al Helweh Camp, the women sew Palestinian embroidered pillows for sale abroad during the two hours the camp gets electricity. The bright spring sun barely makes it through the clusters of blocks on top of blocks and even with the electricity, the women squint to see their stitches. They are undisturbed by the two seven-year old boys outside beating each other up as an affordable form of entertainment. They are not fazed when the camp goes into lockdown because the Lebanese army suspects a renegade group of having smuggled arms into the camp the night before. As our Lebanese taxi driver warned us on the way, Ain Al Helweh is where the “criminals of the world” go to hide because there is no law here.
In Bourj Al Barjneh Camp, when a Syrian man came into the crumbling hospital carrying his six-year old wounded son, the female nurses didn’t ask him who shot the boy. They just did their best to prep him for surgery and calm the father down. The women of the camps are born and then marry, feed their children and hope.
We were there that week because we were filming patients of the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fun, a US organization that sends volunteer medical teams to operate on some of the sickest kids in the camps. That week the team was two orthopedic surgeons and an anesthesiologist, all from Chile.
You can see the doctors in “Dreams in Their Eyes” in Los Angeles. I’m proud of what my students had the courage to explore with this film. But I will leave you to this blurb. Otherwise, it is hard to talk about because I always hear the man in the battered bamboo chair.
The award-winning documentary (UAE/Lebanon)“Dreams in Their Eyes,” will play at the Evolution International Film Festival on Saturday, July 27, at 1.30. The film portrays the stories of three children in different refugee camps around Lebanon suffering from diseases too costly to treat if not for the help of the US-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. With unprecedented access to operating rooms and family homes, the film was shot over a week when a volunteer team of doctors from Chile came to treat Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children brought to the Bourj Al Barjneh Camp. Three young Emirati women directed the film, the first Emiratis to film in the camps, and the film won “Best Emirati Film” at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival, in addition to having screened at festivals in the UK, India and Spain.
This year over 300 movies out of 26 countries, in 22 different languages were submitted to festival. The final selection includes 24 films in 10 different languages, many with a Middle East theme.
Saturday July 27th, 2013
1.30 to 3.30 pm
Los Angeles Film School
6363 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
For more information: